5 Questions for 100 Designers

~ This interview was originally published on July 17, 2014 as part of Yevgeny Yermakov’s 5 Questions for 100 Designers project. ~

What difficulties did you face at the beginning of your career?

I studied music as an undergraduate but slowly realized that I couldn’t live like my friends who were moving to NYC to work in the music industry after college. Design was always something I was interested in pursuing but since I was self-taught, I really had no idea of how to start a design career and I didn’t have the confidence to apply for jobs at agencies I admired. I had a portfolio of self-initiated projects that was actually pretty good but I felt like I was pretending to be a designer. Luckily I was accepted into an MFA program at Parsons, where I met inspiring teachers and students while learning the professional practice of design.

What should a young designer do in order not to get hired by anybody?

Young designers should have a portfolio that highlights the type of work they want to do and that provides insight into their thought process. The challenges you faced and the ideas that you tried that didn’t work reveal a lot more about you as a designer than final deliverables without any context. A good portfolio will help get you the interview, but remember that the person hiring you is trying to anticipate how well you will work with the rest of the team, if you’re going to take feedback and direction or if you have a huge ego, and if the team will be able to rely on you to deliver great work consistently on tight deadlines. Be professional, humble, and eager to learn.

Are there any things you wish you knew at the beginning of your career?

Definitely. One of the hardest things for me to learn was that it doesn’t matter how ‘good’ or ‘creative’ your work is if it’s not what the client wants or if it doesn’t speak to the intended audience. Doing good work is a lot about understanding the people you’re working for (including their business needs, personalities, and expectations), the intended audience, and defining the design challenge well to take all that into account. If you don’t start with a well-defined design problem, any time you put into the work after that is likely wasted.

Are there any rules or habits that help you do your job more efficiently?

My goal is to only work for clients who have a clear understanding of their business (it’s amazing how many clients don’t know their own customers or industry) and who are excellent communicators. Under-promise and over-deliver. Break down big challenges into smaller tasks and get buy-in at meaningful points throughout the process. Have clear goals for every meeting or call. Manage the process. Be flexible throughout, but also be firm when you know you’re being asked to do something that doesn’t make sense.

Would you recommend some books that young designers might find useful?

Yes. Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud is an amazing book for anyone who communicates visually. And Make It Bigger by Paula Scher for insight into the professional practice of an incredible designer with decades of experience.

Mark Forscher is Principal of Under After, a Brooklyn-based design studio. Previously Mark was the in-house Creative Director for ABC News Digital, Newsweek Digital, and Code and Theory’s first Creative Director. Mark also creates music as Lost Waves.

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